Bringing the Outside In – When a Pharma Factory is Needed in the Future Part 1

This article was originally published in the March April issue of Pharmaceutical Engineering® magazine. Continue reading this series:

"When a factory is needed in the future, what could it look like, and how should we think and work differently to build it?"
Roger Connor
Roger Connor
President Global Manufacturing Supply

This is a question that Roger Connor, President, Global Manufacturing Supply, GlaxoSmithKline, considers frequently. I had the privilege of meeting him during the ISPE 2017 Annual Meeting & Expo. This is an abridged and edited version of our conversation.

How do you define innovation? How do you develop that value within an organization, from the ground up?

It’s all about people and the "leadership shadow" that they cast. At the top of the house you have to welcome innovation, recognize it, and demand it. Right across the organization, you want every one of your leaders to believe it’s their role to innovate, to spot things that can improve. So, as well as the big role innovation plays—the headline projects—you need to recognize all the smaller things that get done.

Line managers are some of the most important people in our factories. They set the tone and culture for the company. If they set a certain expectation of a team and encourage innovation, that’s where the successful ideas come from.

Do you think it is easier outside of North America? Is there a cultural difference across continents?

Western countries can be more focused on trying to solve things themselves. I see a greater hunger in Asia to go and learn from others. They’re not embarrassed to "steal with pride," as we call it, to find a best practice in another sector and apply it. If you get into a mindset of "Well, it’s not invented here, so we’ll have to find a solution," that is just waste.

I was going to ask about the impact on manufacturing operations of trying to solve things yourself, but you summarized it with one word.

It’s complete and utter waste. I’d much rather ask our teams to learn first—to go and see what others have done. That’s the behavior we should reward. If we encourage people to go out and learn, we’ll get a massive return. This also allows us to move rapidly onto the next problem, and the next one after that.

What are the industries from which pharma can learn the most, and what do they bring to the table?

The obvious one is aerospace, which is very highly regulated, as we are. It has deviations, it has quality control issues, and still the industry manages to have one of the best safety records of any sector in terms of avoiding catastrophic failures. Some of the areas we can learn from in aerospace include material science and preventive/predictive maintenance. So, aerospace really interests me.

Another is the automotive industry. The sector has had to innovate to survive as profit margins have been squeezed and competition has grown. The industry is going through radical change in terms of new technology. We can learn from this and recruit some great talent too.

How easy is it to do that?

It’s very easy to attract people to health care from outside our sector. At GSK, for example, what attracts people most is our mission and values. It’s an opportunity to apply their technical skill set in an area where they feel they can really make a difference.

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